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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 April, 2005, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
UN attacks DR Congo militia camps
UN soldiers in Bunia
The UN is showing muscle after nine of their troops were killed
The United Nations military in the Democratic Republic of Congo have carried out an attack on militiamen who refused to surrender their weapons.

A UN battalion backed by helicopters targeted two rebel camps south-west of the main town of Bunia in Ituri region.

"Shots were exchanged... , a number of militiamen fled with the arrival of the UN forces," the UN mission in the DR Congo (Monuc), said in a statement.

It gave no details on any arrests or weapons seized.

Col Hussein Mahmoud, the deputy force commander, said earlier the operation would send a message to other militias that the UN would destroy all their camps.

It was intended to show "we mean business", Col Mahmoud said.

The UN vowed to take a tough line against Ituri's warring ethnic militia after a disarmament deadline expired, with fewer than half of 15,000 fighters giving up their weapons.

Child soldiers

Col Mahmoud has accused the militias - from the Lendu tribe - of committing an appalling catalogue of murder and rape.

Vicious ethnic warfare, fuelled by ready access to weapons, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians in the province.

UN envoys had twice urged the militiamen to join the disarmament process - agreed to by the main militia groups in Ituri last September - but they refused.

Half the fighters in the eastern Ituri region are under 18 years old and some are as young as eight, UN officials say.

They have been caught up in ethnic violence that has left many civilians dead and many more homeless.

Some leaders have been rewarded with high-ranking posts in the new integrated Congolese army, the BBC's Ishbel Matheson in Ituri says.

But other powerful warlords have dragged their feet over the weapons surrender, our correspondent says.

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